Senate Weighs Campaign Finance Changes
Around the State
Senators began warily moving toward addressing campaign finance laws Monday, with the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approving a measure that would do away with one fundraising vehicle and increase the limits on contributions to some candidates.
But the measure would not move as far as House leadership has signaled it wants to go, even as Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has suggested that he will dial back his push to increase contribution limits for state campaigns.
Several times, Ethics and Elections Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, made it clear that the bill was largely being addressed because it was a priority of Weatherford’s. Asked by another senator what his objectives were in crafting the measure, Latvala quipped: “Peace and tranquility with the Florida House of Representatives.”
Latvala said the House wanted concessions from the Senate on campaign finance measures in order to give some ground to a bill from the upper chamber on ethics reform, a key priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
In fact, Latvala has expressed qualms with the centerpiece of the measure (SB 1382), which would bar “committees of continuous existence,” or CCEs.
“If I’d have had my way, I would have left CCEs,” Latvala told his committee Monday.
The bill does not track exactly with its House counterpart (HB 569). One of the changes more likely to become a flashpoint is the Senate take on contributions to candidates. It would allow each person to donate $3,000 per election to statewide candidates, including Supreme Court justices facing retention elections; $2,000 for district court of appeal judges; and $500 for every other office, from legislative seats to local positions.
That’s a far cry from the $10,000 limit that the House has proposed, though Weatherford has conceded in recent days that his chamber will likely lower that number.
Latvala said after the meeting that the contribution limit was one of the priorities of Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is expected to take over the Senate presidency after the 2014 elections.
And the measure is running into bipartisan headwinds on a number of fronts, with many Democrats skeptical of a bill that does little to rein in contributions from special interests. For example, other political committees would be able to pick up where CCEs left off and collect unlimited contributions in most cases.
“My concern is that we’re discussing campaign finance, and we’re not talking at all about how we get money out of the system,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “We’re shuffling money around.”
And some Republicans are concerned with a more intensive filing process, which by the end of an election cycle would require candidates to file daily reports on their campaign finances. In all, state candidates would go from filing eight reports to filing 21.
“It seems to me that this schedule of reporting is just setting people up to be in a state of inadvertent noncompliance at some point,” said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.
In fact, some members of the committee seemed to be moving toward undoing the logic of the House’s swap of higher contribution limits for greatly increased transparency, instead offering a lower contribution limit than the House’s proposal for a lighter reporting schedule.
“If we’re not going to have that high number, we may not necessarily have to have the daily piece,” Gardiner said.